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The Age of Disruption

In the age of disruptive innovation, many established organizations are under increasing pressure not simply to compete but to survive. Existing multi-billion dollar industries are being radically recast by disruptive technologies while new industries are being created around capabilities not previously imaginable. The innovation cycle is producing products and services that come from left field and threaten legacy solutions and the organizations that provide them. More and more established organizations are finding themselves having to react at an increasing pace – something that is outside the norm for both their culture and business operations. One of the primary challenges executives face in the current business environment is how their organizations can change fast enough to maintain market relevance. Most notably missing at present is a change strategy designed specifically toward a changing marketplace. The changes required in this age of disruption impact virtually every element of established organizations – none more challenging perhaps than the cultural realignment required. The organization change strategies currently adopted to date by many organizations will not be sufficient to make that transition. Similarly, the role of organization change practitioners will radically alter and the professional skill requirements will increase significantly.

Traditional Organization Change

At present, most organization change initiatives are short term goal oriented, with defined objectives, budget and schedule. Change is managed as a series of events rather than a core organizational philosophy. Change management activities, usually in categories of people, process and technology, are performed to enable a transition from some current state to a defined future state and the subsequent adoption of a new way of doing business. Traditional change work is typically led by internal or external change practitioners, predominantly consultants with specialized skills in the management of change. In effect, change is simply a project that is delivered by a 3rd party as a managed service and is predominantly applicable to a subset of the organization. Change is not required to be a core competence of the organization as it is periodic in nature and initiated only on an as needed basis. Continuous improvement rather than continuous change is the strategy of choice in traditional organizations. As such, when any change is implemented and the new way of doing business is adopted, the consultants wrap up, bringing with them the requisite knowledge and skills. The process repeats itself as new change projects are initiated. At best, organizations build some minimal level of change expertise via osmosis or interaction with a conceptual change methodology. This model works perfectly well for organizations where change is the exception rather than the rule. However, this approach is becoming less relevant for reasons we will explore further.

The Dynamic Organization

The dynamic organization is one that can remain in a state of constant change. It innovates quickly, operates with agility and is fervently focused on the future. It breaks existing business models and differentiates itself on speed to market, rapid user adoption and a positive user experience. Its product lifecycles are shorter, ambiguity is a given, risk tolerance is higher and failure is an accepted step on the path to success. Speed is of the essence and is reflected through the minimization of management layers and operational overhead, greater decision making discretion and downward delegation. This is the organizational model so familiar in the startup environment. With a few notable exceptions, this is far removed from the norm of traditional organizations. While the process of making the transition from a traditional to a dynamic organization is beyond the scope of this article, it will be addressed in a subsequent article.

Accelerated Change in Dynamic Organizations

Organizations that choose to compete in dynamic markets are recognizing that they themselves must become dynamic. What is clear is that the traditional organization change approach is not sufficient to build and support a culture of continuous change. The management of change via consultants through a series of delegated projects is neither feasible nor effective. It does not easily scale, is cost prohibitive and frankly much too slow. Individuals at all levels of the organization must become increasingly knowledgeable and skilled in leading and driving change as a core component of their role. Skills that were previously confined to a small group of specialists must now be transferred to the organization. Organizations must become skilled masters of their own change. To effectively accomplish this requires the development of employees as change masters within an organization culture supportive of continuous change. This education, training and adoption of the skills of accelerated change is no small undertaking but it is necessary for organizations wishing to compete on a dynamic basis.

The Future for Organization Change Practitioners

The above obviously begs the question as to the role of the professional change practitioner/consultant going forward. Much like the employees referenced above, they too will adopt a new role. They must trade the role of change execution to one of change education, training and coaching. Change practitioners will also take on the significantly more complex role of the design, creation and transition of traditional organizations to dynamic structures and cultures. While these advanced skills exist in many change practitioners, they are not readily available in the masses who have focused solely on the execution of project based change. Market demand will be high for consultants of this caliber. Companies that supply organization change services will have radically different value propositions for project based change and dynamic change offerings.

What is certain about the future is that the pace of change will continue to accelerate. Organizations that can’t keep that pace will not survive